Who Owns the Monkey?

Last week I considered the difference between an organizational culture characterized by accountability, versus one characterized by a victim mindset.

In an accountable culture, employees are comfortable acknowledging reality, warts and all. They don’t wait for someone to solve their problems, or hope that things will get better on their own. They take responsibility for finding solutions for problems over which they have clear authority.

To create a culture of accountability, reinforce individual ownership of problems. Always ask, “Who owns the monkey?”

Nonprofit leaders are often overworked and under-resourced. As a result, staff problems can easily move up the chain of command. You need to create a culture of accountability to ensure that the only issues that land on your plate are the ones for which you hold clear responsibility.

Let’s say that one of your staff shows up in your office with a problem — a monkey — on their shoulder. As a manager, you want to acknowledge that you see the monkey and that you care about the monkey. You may even feed the monkey for a few minutes. But you can’t let that staff member leave the monkey behind for you to take care of. Be sure that when they walk out the door of your office, the monkey goes too.

Owning the monkey means that the person responsible cannot pass the buck; they must think through the consequences of decisions and try to solve the problems that arise.

Ask yourself, “Who owns the monkey?” Create an accountable culture; don’t accept a victim mindset. If you set an example of taking responsibility for your own decisions, your people will do the same.

  • Do your senior executives and your colleagues take responsibility for their decisions?
  • Think of an instance where you dropped the monkey and your manager had to step in. What would you do differently next time?
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